I’ve read a lot of dating books. A lot, a lot. You can’t write a novel about dating culture, with 60 endings and not read your leg length in advice. The idea for my novel, Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda came about during the He’s Just Not That Into You craze, which timed roughly with the release of Neil Strauss’ The Game, which men use a bible for picking up women.
I’d gone on a nightmare date with a guy who turned out to be studying The Game himself. That’s when I realized that as much as women get and apply advice to their dating lives, men do, too. Not as often, or in the same volume, but things were changing, again, and it struck me that playing games was going to take on a whole new meaning, but nobody would really have a clear idea of the rules, so to speak.
My background in gaming morphed that notion into the concept of a Role-Playing Game. Or a First Person Dater. But in a book. Like a choose your own adventure novel from when we were kids. And I loved the idea. I even bought and read copies of The Game and The Rules. Then I got sidetracked in a new relationship with my now partner, but did end up picking up another book the first time we hit a bump in the road. This one was totally different from the others I’d read. Wildly.
It made me dislike myself – almost as much as the person it wanted me to become. It wasn’t about finding love, it was about finding a man and how to manipulate him to stay. At the wise age of 26 I knew that this was a book on how to wind up in a loveless marriage or even divorced.
Let me state clearly, I’m all for advice books. They’re a great, anonymous resource for when we want objective help. And I continued to think they were great after I’d finished my fifteenth for research. What they had in common, however, was that they didn’t have much in common at all. While there were really great ones focusing on niche aspects of relationships, many focused on how the reader needed to change herself to find unconditional love. Taste that irony. And none of them made room for our individual experience.
So when I picked up dating expert Kelly Seal’s book Date Expectations: A Guide to Changing Your Dating Life and Finding Love, it was refreshing. Right there in the title, she’s not asking you to change, just to change the patterns that clearly aren’t working – or you wouldn’t be reading her book.
This wasn’t an offering that told me, “Well, no wonder! It’s your fault! You’re going to wind up settling if you keep being you!” And it didn’t tell me I was a special hybrid snowflake-unicorn who deserved perfection and that anything less was, you guessed it, settling.
Date Expectations understands that the common denominators between dating advice books are the individuals buying them. Individuals with different goals and experiences. Some who have the equivalent of emotional carry-on and others who’ll be paying extra for a giant suitcase that doubles as a Heartbreak Box. People so dedicated to learning how to find their one [true love, night stand, who got away] that they outsmarted themselves. Many treating it like a business transaction remniscent of dowries and the renaissance era.
And I loved that she understood that so well. In truth, we are hybrid unicorn-snowflakes. It just doesn’t entitle us to anything anymore than it does the work for us. Men and women are looking for each other, but mostly, they’re look at each other. They’re limiting themselves with “lists,” and “types” and “deal-breakers,” and acting like it’s just them setting their standards. And they are – their double standards.
We don’t want to be rejected for our perfect imperfections anymore than he does, but we rule each other in or out after a ten second physical assessment, or a few minutes into a conversation – almost always for superficial reasons, a lack of immediate spark, or no obvious clue this person checks all the boxes on that list. Then we say we hate dating, only to saddle up and get back out there the following week, doing exactly the same thing and expecting a different result. We are Insane Daters.
That’s who Date Expectations is aimed at. Not literally batty, of course. No one’s accusing you of bunny-boiling. Kelly Seal’s a friend dishing tough love when she sees you getting in your own way. Because she’s been there. A former speed dating host to thousands, she’s had a front row seat to how both sexes can strategize their way into loneliness. And when she changed her patterns, but not herself, she found her guy.
It’s an easy, fun read with non-tedious exercises that encourage you to reevaluate what it is you’re looking for and the ways you may be closing yourself off from finding it. And, yeah, sometimes she’ll straight up call you out on those double standards. She encourages you to stop making snap judgments, to give yourself some time to get to know someone before you decide it could never work. That’s what you’d want, right?
For anyone already in the thick of it, and definitely anyone dipping their toe into the date pool following a coupled-up hiatus, Date Expectations is a one stop resource that clearly lays out the modern dating terrain, from which online dating sites are best for various objectives and how to maximize engagement, to the newly emerging (and not going anywhere) dating applications taking over our smartphones, like Tinder.
When I finished writing my book, I told my guy he could never leave me because the world was too different from eight years ago. But thanks to Date Expectations, I’m pretty convinced I could be rebounding by the weekend.
Tara Reed is the author of Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda – the choosable path romantic comedy inspired by dating advice books. With 60 good, bad or inexplicable endings, you’ll always have another second chance at love with Mr. Wright. www.doorflower.com